62: Or, what I did on my holidays

This time last week I was in Criccieth, North Wales with London sister (LS): we were peering out of the window at the torrential rain and howling gale and wondering what to do with our day. Luckily, having spent most of our childhood holidays in Wales, we are waterproof and hardy.

We drove up on Friday, via Abergavenny and mid-Wales: through convoy road works, diversions for road closures (including the old Severn Bridge) and finally up through the Dolgellau pass where the car in front of us burned out their clutch, the clouds were down on the road and there were free range sheep on the roadsides. We were staying at the Lion Hotel in Criccieth, where LS explained she was learning Welsh. She asked if it was OK if she practised on them and they promised to help. The hotel is family-run and so friendly, with hot showers, big breakfasts and comfortable beds. We ate in the restaurant on our first evening: whitebait and a freshly baked steak and ale pie for me, and spring rolls and gammon for her. The gammon steak was HUGE, from a local butcher, and came with egg and pineapple – none of this ‘or’ malarkey! They even had a gin menu, featuring local gins – I tried the Rhubarb and Ginger gin.

We went for a walk before dinner, as the rain had stopped and we needed to stretch our legs after the trek up from London: straight to the beach, where we watched a surfer and I got water in my wellies attempting to cross the stream. I squelched for the rest of the walk, causing LS to snigger a lot.

LS had planned our weekend itinerary, and Saturday saw us heading for Aberdaron to pick up the Wales coastal path on a route that would take us to the most westerly part of North Wales….after breakfast, of course, where we discovered that no one knows the word for ‘hash browns’ in Welsh. Google has it as ‘brown hash’ but LS decided ‘tatws wedi hashio’ was better. Not sure we convinced the waitress though!

The sun was out, and we got to Aberdaron in time to buy freshly-baked pasties from Becws Islyn for a picnic lunch on our walk. After a few false starts (getting on the wrong bit of beach, for example) we picked up the coast path and, using the trusty Ordnance Survey book, we headed up. And up. And down. And up. There are steep steps cut into the cliffs and in some cases the path takes you right down to the beach and back up again – Porth Meudwy, where the boat for Bardsey Island leaves from, is a prime example here. It’s a narrow cove with a slipway and not a lot else. The weather by this point was glorious: breezy and fine, and we even had to remove a layer of fleece.

Mynydd Mawr was our destination point: there’s a coastguard station on the very top and the remains of a wartime radar station. The walk instructions at this point were ‘keep walking upwards’: straight to the point there! After a quick peek at the coastguard station we found a spot on the cliff to eat our still-warm pasties and, as we were facing westwards, we could see Ireland in the distance as the weather was so clear. We waved at Ireland sister but we’re not sure she saw us! We moved round the mountain to drink our coffee, eat Snickers bars (the perfect walking snack) and admire Eryri (Snowdonia) in the distance.

The route back took us through some farmland – we were diverted from part of it due to landslips and erosion, and then we rejoined the coastal path back at Porth Meudwy – sadly at the bottom of the steps, so we still had to climb up again! We admired bluebells, foxgloves, late primroses and lots of gorse, and learned about the National Trust’s activity to replace the gorse with heather to create heathland. The final stretch was a scramble across the rocks at Aberdaron as we couldn’t face the final set of down and up steps: the tide was coming in but we raced the waves and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream on the beach. After nine miles of mostly hills we had earned it!

Back in Criccieth, I decided to go for a swim. LS sat on the beach with her book and a G&T. The sea was calm and the beach shelves very quickly, so you don’t need to go out very far to submerge. The hotel landlady thought I was quite mad, and now we get to say ‘o mam bach!’ instead of OMG…

We had fish and chips on the beach for dinner – quite the best I have had for a very long time – accompanied by prosecco and hovering gulls. We didn’t share.

Sunday’s weather was the complete opposite of the previous day, so we headed to Caernarfon for the family zoom call to wish Ireland sister a happy birthday, and then to Newborough Forest and Traeth Llanddwyn on Anglesey for a walk. The Forest is a red squirrel sanctuary, but we didn’t see any: I suspect they were tucked up in their drays hiding from the weather! We did see a woodpecker, two ravens and a lot of sand dunes, and made the sensible decision not to go to the island to see the chapel as we’d have been blown away. We drove back via Llyn Padarn and Llanberis, being awed by the waterfalls in full spate and the number of idiot drivers, and then in the evening we ate at Dylan’s in Criccieth: a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Clough Williams Ellis in the 1930s. No mussels were available so more whitebait, crab arancini and then crab salads.

On Monday’s homeward journey we called in to see our cousin Myfanwy and her husband in Fairbourne, where sheep roamed the streets and the bakery makes excellent brownies. It was lovely to see them – last time I met them it was in Kings Cross so the scenery was very different!

I think the kids were pleased to see me when I got back, it’s hard to tell…

Reality…

The excitement continued on Wednesday as it was the monthly sunset and full moon swim at Redricks – this month was the flower moon, so there were some mad hats on display. The lake looks so pretty lit up by torches in drybags and glowtubes.

On Thursday I had my last day on site at the museum, as we had to be out on Friday for the building work to start. It looks so empty! We recycled and donated as much as we possibly could: scrap metal and wood, charity shops, the Scrap Project, schools, other museums, churches and charities. It’s going to be an adventure for the next few years to say the least!

Baby cow, do-do-do-do-doooo

A finish this week has been this cow and calf, which is probably one of the weirder things I have made – it was a commission from a friend as a gift for her sister in law, who loves all things cow.

I also frogged half my latest sock (Mulled Wine by Vicki Brown Designs) as I decided I didn’t like the solid colour I was using. I took it back to the toe and redid the foot with a self-striping yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners – Winwick Mum in the Wildflower colourway.

The year of handmade gifts

I had a brainwave a few weeks ago and made a chart of all my work colleagues’ birthdays so I can plan a bit better! I am now ahead of myself, having finished the next one and kitted up two more – one for work and one for a friend who is getting married soon.

I have also picked up the Hobbit Hole pattern again, which has been on hold while I’ve been making gifts – I was stitching in the garden yesterday, and while watching films last night.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…

So that’s been my week! A lot of heavy lifting, glorious walks, time with my sister, cross stitch and crochet. And it’s a bank holiday weekend too – hurray!

See you for week 63, which won’t be nearly as exciting as this week I am mostly doing spreadsheets.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure – Joanne Harris (Audible)

Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly

Pel is Puzzled/Pel and the Staghound – Mark Hebden

Week forty four: I think I need a hobby

Last week my walking buddy Jill said ‘I think I need a hobby!’ I am probably the last person you should ever say that to, as you know, but I limited myself to just the one suggestion and that was to take up cross stitch. It’s pretty straightforward: if you can count and thread a needle (and there’s gadgets to help with that) you have the basic skills to take up cross stitch. OK, OK, I know cross stitch for me was a gateway craft which has led to all sorts of other things – up to and including a shed – but I’m assured by some other people that it is possible to have just the one hobby. No, really, it is. Stop laughing!

As I have mentioned before, my adventures in cross stitching started when I couldn’t find a Valentine card for a boyfriend back when I was 21, and it all got a bit out of hand after that. I spotted a design in a magazine and decided it couldn’t really be that hard, so I took myself off to B’s Hive in Monmouth (a much missed town feature as I discovered earlier this week when I posted an image on Facebook of a paper bag from the shop). I bought fabric, needles and floss with the help of one of their very knowledgeable staff, and became hooked pretty quickly. Those were the days before internet shopping – 1995, in fact – and these bricks and mortar shops were treasure troves of yarn, fabrics, beads and buttons. B’s Hive even had a tiny one-table cafe. The boyfriend didn’t last, but the hobby did.

A B’s Hive bag which held some navy 14-count aida. From the days before 01 and 6 figure phone numbers in Monmouth!

And now I have been stitching for 26 years, and have my own trove (well, shed) of fabrics, floss, beads, buttons, hoops, frames and all the other things a crafter accumulates over the years. You don’t really need all the bells and whistles, of course, but things mount up.

So here, for anyone who might be thinking of taking up cross stitching, is all you really need* to be getting on with it:

  1. Something to stitch. This could be a kit, of which there are millions out there to choose from, or it could be a pattern. I’d suggest a kit to start with, as they come with the fabric and floss that you need, a needle, and sometimes a hoop that you can use as a display frame when you have finished using it to hold your WIP (work in progress). Black Sheep Wools or LoveCrafts are good sources of quality kits for beginners with good instructions. There are a lot of cheap kits on Amazon, of course, but many are from Chinese sellers and the instructions may not be as helpful as you’d like. You could also choose a chart to start from – either a paper chart from a shop or website, or from a magazine or book, or if you’re a nerd like me you’ll find designs from every fandom and for every level of ability on Etsy. If you choose to start with a chart, you’ll need to buy all the other bits to go with it, like….
  2. Fabric. ‘Proper’ cross stitch fabric is a woven grid with holes in so you know where to put your needle to make each cross. I usually use aida, which comes in a range of colours and sizes. The ‘count’ of the fabric refers to the number of holes per inch – I like to work on 18 count aida but for a beginner I’d recommend a 14 count. This is the same fabric that many people encountered in school, with much larger holes – usually a 6 count binca for young children. You’ll also see evenweave, linen, jobelan and more – but the key thing is that they all have an even grid of holes. Aida fabrics are quite starchy, which helps keep your stitches nice and even. With the higher count fabric – 28 or 32, for example, you’ll usually work over two threads otherwise your design will be tiny.
  3. Something to hold your work. Some people like hoops for all their projects, others prefer to work ‘in hand’. For small projects like cross stitched cards I like to use a hoop (they come in a range of sizes) that’s a bit bigger than the design I’m working on, as I find that moving the hoop around can crush the stitches. For larger projects I use the Elbesee easy clip frames which also come in a range of sizes. You don’t need them, but you can buy a seat stand or a floor stand to hold these, which keeps your hands free for stitching. There are lots of tutorials on YouTube on how to mount fabric in hoops and frames.
  4. Needles. I use size 24 or size 26 which you can buy in packs from any needlework supplier, and these are usually the ones that come in kits. Gold plated needles are nice, but I find the plating comes off easily and then they catch the fabric. There are easy threading needles, ball point needles – all sorts of needles, but all you really need is the basic one.
  5. Floss: Six stranded cotton, embroidery silks, threads. These are the colourful skeins of thread you see on carousels in the stitching shops – you may even have bought them to make friendship bracelets back in the day. The two main brands in the UK are Anchor and (my preferred brand) DMC although some places stock some beautiful hand dyed threads, and you can often pick up packs of unbranded floss in places like Poundland. Beware of the quality of these though – some of the cheap ones get knotty and fray easily and are really frustrating to work with. There are specialist threads too – metallics and rayons, but wait till you’ve conquered the basics as these can put a beginner off for life. Trust me on this! You cut your length of thread from the skein and peel off the number of strands you need for your design – two or three strands for 14 count, for example.
  6. Sharp small scissors. Nail scissors will do, or embroidery scissors. Small scissors give you more control over how close to the fabric you cut your threads. Hide them from your family in case they use them to trim bacon or something. Bacon does not add to the finished design.
  7. Something to store your threads in. You can buy special plastic or card bobbins, or stitchbows, but I use basic envelopes – the kind you buy in packs from all paper shops etc. I write the number of the floss on the top right hand corner, and when I am working on a project with lots of colours I draw the chart symbol on it too so I don’t have to keep referring to the key. When I am done with the project the envelopes get filed in numerical order in plastic storage boxes (again, nothing special – I think these were from The Range) and then I can easily see what numbers I have.
  8. A cotton bag – this is where all those free tote bags from conferences come in useful. Keeping your project in one of these, or a pillowcase for larger projects, keeps it clean. Unless you have a cat, in which case tweezers will be your friend for removing the stray hairs you have just stitched in. I say embrace the cat hairs or you’ll drive yourself mad.
  9. A highlighter pen for marking off the stitches you have already done on your chart. This is very useful, especially if you are doing blocks of a colour and you have to put your work down a lot. I’d also advise photocopying and enlarging your chart to make it easier to see – you can’t photocopy a chart to give someone else due to copyright, but you can make a copy for personal use. If you have an Android tablet there’s a new app called Pattern Keeper which is brilliant for keeping track of where you are on the chart, and allows you to highlight the colour you’re working on.
  10. And lastly – this is a new entry to my top ten – magnifying specs. You know, the kind you can buy in the chemist for reading. I have only got the 1x strength but as my eyes get older along with the rest of me they have made stitching SO much easier.

*this is a very personal list, of course: everyone has their favourite gadgets and methods! You also need good lighting, a comfy chair, someone to make you copious amounts of tea on demand, and an ability to ignore the housework in favour of stitching. This last item comes magically the more you get addicted to your new hobby. You can thank me later though your family probably won’t.

As for the how to cross stitch, there are so many tutorials out there – pick up a cross stitch mag from the newsagent and you’ll find a how-to in the back of very issue, look on You Tube, buy a book, ask a stitchy friend for a crafty bee afternoon.

The year of the handmade gift

I have decided that this is the year of the handmade gift, so if you know me IRL you’ll most likely end up with something crafty this year. If you are one of the lucky recipients (and even if you don’t like it) know that if I have made you something it’s been chosen because I think you’ll like it, because I like you enough to spend my time making you something, and that a lot of thought and time has gone into it.

This week I have handed over two cross stitched things:

The off centre framed picture was a 40th birthday present for a friend – I saw the design on someone else’s timeline and immediately thought of Miriam (happy birthday Miriam!). She loves purple, so I found some mottled pale lavender coloured aida for the fabric. I handed it over yesterday with apologies for the wonky rush job framing as I thought her birthday was next month… the design is from an American mag called Just Cross Stitch (the Halloween 2020 special) and I bought it from Annie’s as a PDF.

The card was inspired by the news at the beginning of a team meeting that a colleague has had her contract extended, and by the note to herself that she had written to remind herself to keep us on track during the meeting. I occasionally describe her job – interpretation producer – as more akin to herding kittens as we do tend to head off after metaphorical balls of museum wool on a terrifyingly regular basis. Her note said ‘facilitate!’ so I immediately thought dalek. Lettering by me, Dalek-19 pattern by Highland Murr Blackwork.

My current project is a nice geeky one by Nerdpillo on Etsy, on 18 count cream aida.

Thing 2 has been enjoying tie-dying over lockdown so I challenged her to dye a piece of fabric for me for a watery design – this is what she came up with and I love it!

And finally here’s a blanket update and some French knitting with six pins!

Welly walks

We dragged all the children outside yesterday for a walk round the burial park in the village – it’s in local ancient woodland, part of the Gaynes Park estate, and it’s lovely. Thing Three was concerned about zombies, but as his father kindly pointed out, I’d had my morning coffee and would probably be OK till I got back.

The woods are filled with bird and bat boxes, and we spotted a mouse on a tree trunk, and the burials themselves are simple and marked with wooden memorials. There are dedicated benches and trees, and lovely carved wooden statues and figures like this hare below.

Thing Two stomped in puddles while One and Three complained that they were tired, their legs hurt, they didn’t like being outside…. I enjoyed it, despite.

In our own garden I discovered that we have some very early primroses, the skeletons of last summer’s physalis, and that fungus has colonised one of the trees.

This week’s cover photo shows the glorious sunrise over Tawney Common this morning: so beautiful that we kept stopping to take pictures as the light changed. You can see more of these on my Instagram feed as they have for some reason not pulled through into Google Photos yet.

And it’s finally snowing, so I am going to leave this here and go and watch the Horde playing outside.

Same time, same place next week!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

The Ordeal of the Haunted Room – Jodi Taylor

Nice Jumper – Tom Cox

Baking Bad – Kim M Watt

Urban Drawing (Tate Sketch Club) – Phil Dean